A reflection by Ann Rennie, Companion in Mission from Melbourne, Australia. Ann pays tribute to the FCJ sisters who arrived in Australia in 1882 and started Genazzano FCJ College. Ann teaches English and Religious Education at Genazzano
Joan Chittister writes in The Time is Now. A Call to Uncommon Courage (2019, Convergent Books, New York. p 27):
Yes, the Christian idea is personal goodness, of course, but personal goodness requires that we be more than pious, more than faithful to the system, more than mere card-carrying members of the Christian community. Christianity requires, as well, that we each be so much a prophetic presence that our corner of the world becomes a better place because we have been there.
Not so sure about my prophetic presence. Perhaps I am a very minor prophet in my corner of the world, the religious education classroom. I am trying to sow seeds that will grow in later years, grow into the next generation of faith and hope and love.
Some days I am an angry prophet feeling unlistened to, disregarded, my pleas falling on deaf ears. Perhaps my words are not in the colourful and immediate vernacular of youth so they miss their mark. Perhaps I am a bit old school and traditional, not cool or edgy enough. Some days, though, I know I have made an impression. Perhaps I have used the words of others and added my own spin on them, updated them for contemporary telling, looking for entry-points that will resonate with my students. Some days, I get through and some days I know that what I say is going in, only to germinate in the fullness of its own time, when the student is ready for those words, be it a year, a decade or a lifetime later.
Sometimes, I feel that I am making something of a last stand as the swirling waves of secularism threaten some of the things I hold dear. But if I don’t stand for these, I lose a little of the self I have always believed myself to be. Like some of the prophets of old, I ignore the critics and the doomsayers and those who amplify doubt and uncertainty. This is not about putting my head in the sand but about looking at things squarely and making an intentional decision to keep going. So, there I am, with my friends and colleagues, standing our ground, perhaps with a small and insistent prophetic impulse that tells us to keep going because, of all things, our lives are premised on hope.
I am also a card-carrying Catholic with a little white card wedged into my wallet announcing in sturdy black font that I am a Catholic should I get knocked down and need a priest, nun or someone who understands what this particular belonging means. But I know what Joan is implying when she says we must be more than merely card-carrying. It is about the difference between Church and Kingdom. We can be nice members of an inoffensive club that does some good things together for others. This is cosy and unthreatening as long as we abide by the institutional rules. Sometimes, though, we have to act up and out and beyond the constraints of polite society. Sometimes, we need to enter the fray. Our words or actions, or both, might need to be put to the What would Jesus do? test.
Certainly, the grand aim of a life is to make the world a better place by our presence. As I write this, Queen Elizabeth’s coffin lies in Westminster Hall as thousands of mourners file past to pay their last respects. I watched on live stream as the cortege left Balmoral heading for Edinburgh and saw in what affection she was held, as people lined the streets of towns or stood by farm gates or gathered in small villages. They were remarking the passing of a woman who knew about service, duty, and sacrifice, a woman who had dedicated her life to her people. Yes, there was privilege and pampering because of her status, but we never saw theatrics or moods or petulant foot-stamping. What we saw was grit and grace and goodness in a life pre-destined. And we saw fidelity, always, to her Christian faith. Her legacy made the world a better place. Perhaps that is also what people are mourning. Instinctively, they know that something strong and true has gone, that stability that her seventy years on the throne provided, that enduring presence in many corners of the world.
Over the next few months, the Sisters Faithful Companions of Jesus will depart from their residence in Moonbria Ave, next to Genazzano. The sisters have been on site here since 1889 when the convent, designed by William Wardell, was built. Kew then was out in the sticks. In the boardroom there is a lovely painting of cows grazing unperturbed as the convent stands, new and imposing, in the background. Situated on the hill that is Mont Victor Road, coming up from Deepdene, the tower breasts the skyline and the view from the top is truly breath-taking. Climbing the internal stairs to get onto the tower roof is reserved as a Year 12 rite of passage!
Three images of Genazzano: Range View, the first house; newly built Genazzano, and Genazzano today
I would like to pay tribute to those gallant sisters who arrived here in 1882 after the call went out to the teaching orders in the Mother Country to come to the colony of Victoria to educate the young faithful. For 133 years, the FCJ Sisters have made the world a better place for many Genazzano girls and countless others because of their loving kindness, their gentleness, their selfless service, their commitment to education. They have been an enduring presence in this corner of the world and I have been the beneficiary of their wisdom, hard work, good humour and faith. They have truly been Faithful Companions to so many of us.
They have made the world a better place because they were here.
Read other contributions by Ann Rennie on our website. Learn about the FCJ Companions in Mission. Read about the history of the presence of the FCJ Sisters in Australia